New dreams….. journey to the future.

Nearly 6 years ago now Steel Town Cycles began in my garage. The concept being to offer a flexible mobile mechanic service. This was to be a baptism by fire. Like many who start a business I was full of passion and drive to make this earn a contribution to the household income. Having left a well paid job in 3-6 months I’d run out of my savings. How naive I was. It would be several years before I could pay myself. An advisor would later say to me 3-5 years before you can pay yourself a salary.

I have asked myself many times in the last 6 months if I made a good decision? Of course it’s not as straightforward as that. As many self employed people will tell you. Following that dream on passion alone will not always have the result you can see in your mind. The jury is still deliberating on that question. Of course without the passion and drive your dream won’t come to fruition.

The planning is the step I impatiently passed over. Many of my self employed colleagues have just grimaced. No business plan…..no business right. It’s so much more complicated than that. I’ve had some, but very little business support. You see that’s the other thing if you don’t have a plan then no bank will give you money to start. I like many used my limited savings with the thought that I would replace it once I’d started to earn. My blogs are usually about my cycling experiences and not really about the journey of Steel Town Cycles.

I am Jonathan. I am Steel Town Cycles, one day it will be my son Alex’s. When a client chooses to work with me, they get more than a corporate trained face of that large chain or bigger shop. I’d like to thank those who have became my clients wether it’s once a year or several times a month. You are all important. You all keep the dream evolving. Some of the best cycle shops I went into as a kid and adult were one shop. Not even a small chain. They were mostly family operated with very few staff if any. I am that one shop. I set up in a town that already had 2 shops because I thought I could do it differently. Not necessarily better, just different.

I started as a service, repair and custom builds shop offering advice and accessories. Again I set up in my new home in a stand-alone garage. Still no business plan. No understanding of budgets, advertising and buying. Flying by the seat of my pants. Many would have thrown in the towel, but the thing is I’m actually very good at this. I don’t want to let go of the dream. What I’ve learned about self employment I’ve largely learned myself through trial and error. As the shop owner and technician I am responsible for everything. From making the tea, sweeping the floor and everything in between.

STC have already had one dalliance into selling bikes. These were excellent kids bikes designed in the UK and well thought out. My son has had 2 and he’s still on his second Squish bike.

Due to restrictions in the space we had Steel Town Cycles relocated to our new home at Unit 4, 25-27 Derwent Street, Blackhill, Consett. DH8 8LR. Once again Steel Town Cycles have new bikes for Sale Uk designed Claud Butler and Dawes Cycles. Custom builds using the Excellent UK brand Kinesis for Gravel and Road bike builds.

I’m trying to offer more as well as the already established Service,Repair and Upgrades. “If you build it they will come” if only this was still the case. The reality is that changing what you are known for takes time, money and effort. Add to that the effect that coronavirus and brexit had on the economy and it wouldn’t be asking a lot to think is this the wrong time. People don’t visit shops like they used to, so how do I encourage them to but bikes for me. That’s the question I need to answer.

Jonathan is a Cytech Level 2 trained cycle technician, Bosch eBike systems trained, Shimano Di2 and Steps eBike systems.

2 Wheels Good 4 Wheels…….. getting more expensive.

Before anyone thinks that I’m going to lay into car use I’m not. Though if there was ever a more opportune time to buy a bike or get your old one out of mothballs it’s now. With fuel prices raising it seems daily, other cost of living rises we are all thinking of using our vehicles less I’m sure. Most of us have jumped into the car to get a few bits at the local shops. Myself included.

We could cycle or walk to the shops, carry a backpack which also cuts down our use of plastic bags. It’s a win win. A Healthier you getting out in the fresh air and making some savings on your vehicle use. Helping you and your family get through this time of rising costs. No one can ignore what’s happening in the Ukraine with Russia’s immoral invasion. It’s sure to have an effect on our standards of living due to all of the sanctions on Russia.

As a part of the local community Steel Town Cycles would like to help you get the most from your cycling. We are happy to advise on the best choice of bike for your needs, New or Refurbished. We are delighted that bikes are once again becoming available as the supply chain slowly recovers. We have also seen improvements in parts availability.

What would encourage you, our customer to call into an independent shop like ours instead of shopping online? Other than the obvious, the internet can’t fix your bike. We often have stock when the online stores don’t. Often stock brands that are unique to independent bicycle retailers. The process in choosing these brands involves many hours of research to ensure we have the best products for you. Independent bike shops give a value of service above the cost in ££. We always deliver above expectations.

New stock comes into us every week. Depending upon how busy we are it’s not always possible to upload these to our website. We rely upon you coming in to see what we have. We’d like you to think of us as the heart of the cycling community. Always happy to have a chat or share our knowledge. As we are getting used to “living with COVID” it’s important to stay healthy. Your local bike shop needs your support to keep on providing for you into the future.

Local bike shop day is coming on April 30th 2022 and we’ll be taking part again. We’d like to see as many of you as possible throughout the day. We’ll have On the Day Only offers, Clearance stock, bundle buy offers and be carrying out Free of charge Safety Checks. We’ll advise on service or repair recommendations. If you book your bike in for service on the day they’ll be discounts for parts supplied and fitted.

2022 is going to be your year for change. A healthier year, small changes can make a difference. Start today. Steel Town Cycles are here to help. Visit us in the shop

2 Wheeled adventures

As the owner of a bike shop I’m lucky to do something that makes a difference for so many. The bicycle a wonderfully simple design classic. The reason it’s not largely changed is because it’s near perfect. Progress has been made in different ways.

When I first discovered the bicycle as a teenager it was the sense of freedom, being able to get to places without having to relay on my parents. My introduction was really accelerated by a teacher who was a keen touring cyclist and organised several school bike rides for the other kids in my school year group. It was my introduction to the bike in where, with a little imagination, it could take you. On that first little tour, we only covered 50 miles in 2 days with a youth hostel overnight.

Since then I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of very nice bikes. I worked hard to get my bikes. The weekends meant freedom. I got into competitive cycling in my 20’s and would describe myself as a clubman. A good rider, but not a leader perhaps more like a team player. Cycle racing is something that appears to be a solo sport from the outside, though it’s surprising how much of a team effort it is. Without his team mates the competitive cyclist is isolated and subject to attack. With talented teammates he/she is part of a greater whole.

We live in challenging times. We are all being squeezed financially. Part of my cycling life has been using my bike as a commuter. Not only are there health benefits but in these days of rising fuel costs the bicycle has its part to play. Most of us commute less than 5 miles, use our car to go to the supermarket for a basket full of shopping. Commuting by bike isn’t going to practical for everyone but I believe that it has its place in our future transport system. Particularly in Towns like ours. The infrastructure needs to be improved, but it’s really just creating links to what’s already there.

Maybe this is the year to make a small change. Become more green or just enjoy a different kind of holiday that doesn’t involve getting on a plane. Enjoy an active holiday and spend some dough in the UK. The hardest thing is to turn the first pedal stroke, once you do you’ll open yourself up to a world of adventures and freedom on your doorstep and then wherever you’re willing to go.

What can you do on a rainy winter day…… think about your next ride🚴‍♂️😁🚴‍♀️😁

As some of you will know, I own a bike shop in Blackhill; http://www.steeltowncycles.co.uk. I’ve been riding bikes since my teens and fixing them for the last 20 odd years. I that time I’ve raced, XC Mountain Bike, Cyclocross, Downhill mountain bike and road racing.

I’ve raced with some great guys over the years, lost contact and lost my love for cycling then regained it. The point is that’s normal. I’m grateful for the friendships that existed then and now. My days of racing are now a thing of the past …….. well maybe. Never say never eh?

I’m finding inspiration in keeping my customers bikes running smoothly and being a point of information for them all.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been a regular cyclist but I’ve decided that this is the year it’s going to happen. As the rain lashes against the window I’m reminded of the cyclist that I was. No weather would stop me! Being fortunate enough to cycle to work, prior to Shop ownership, I’ve ridden in many conditions of wind and rain, snow and the dreaded ice. Car ownership gives us an easy option and then the bike becomes a weekend activity.

The bike has kept me healthy in mind and body and both have suffered as a result of my reluctance to feel the wind and rain on my face again. So when you tell yourself it’s too cold, you’ll also find an excuse for it being too hot. It’s true that cycling can be addictive because it gives you a sense of well-being which is difficult to let go of. When you do let it go it’s difficult to return to as your head tells you, “I could climb that hill 2 minutes faster last time” when the last time was almost 2 years ago and 12kg lighter.

So part way into a new year I want to make a resolution to myself to look after myself better. It’s easier to get out with friends as you will soon inspire each other to go further or dig in a bit more on that hateful climb that usually got the better of you when you were stronger. Cycling is all the better when in good company. No matter what shape you’re in now you’ll feel better and like you’ve accomplished something when you ride around the corner and get off the bike at home.

2021 was a tough year for me and the shop. We’ve started this year quieter than in years and it’s been difficult to find the motivation to go on with it some days. If you’ve been in contact and couldn’t get a hold of me I can only apologise. It’s not been my intention to let anyone down. In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner is told “If you build it, they will come”. When I started out on this adventure in 2016, I had that fresh faced belief. Unfortunately the reality is far different. For the small independent bike shop to survive it needs its loyal customers. Steel Town Cycles is YOUR bike shop. Think before you go to click on the mouse or go to a major retailer that perhaps the smaller shops have more to give. Better customer service and building relationships that will last for years.

Too many great independent bike shops in the north east have had to close their doors for the last time. Cycling has changed, £200 won’t get you much of a bike these days. Many more may be doing the same in 2022. When it’s gone it’s gone, use it or loose it. Of course we are all looking for the best deals, the best price. Perhaps in both the interests of shopping local and safeguarding local jobs and businesses, it’s the right moral choice.

Above are some photos of the many cycling adventures I’ve been part of over the years. I’m lucky to have been there. The great thing about cycling is that at its heart it isn’t elitist, people make it that way by being snobby about what bike you ride. If you enjoy it and you get out of it what you hope, then that’s what is important.

For now, I’m going to be trying my best to get out on those rides with family and friends. Remembering a bike has always been in my life and it’s an old friend I don’t want to loose contact with.

The Tale of a Hard Working Bike Mechanic.

Not always as miserable 😁

A little over 5 years ago your intrepid voyager (see above) took a huge risk and left a secure and well paid job……. Why??? It’s a question that I haven’t asked myself in a very long time. There isn’t really an answer other than to follow a dream. Which is a good lead in to say that dreams can also become nightmares too.

I not only gave up a well paid secure job, but I took a chance that I could become a successful business owner.

Success – the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”there is a thin line between success and failure”

In may ways I do think that I’ve achieved my initial goal. Though in doing so a number of further lessons have been learned. Being successful in business is not guaranteed simply because you have a good idea/product or service.

Many other things come to light on that journey. The relationships you damage, the negative impact of those that want you to fail! The joy in helping those that value what you do, your advice and of course skills. But of course that doesn’t pay the bills. The simple day to day struggles of earning a living from something you have a talent and passion for.

During my journey through self employed shop ownership I’ve made more friends than I’ve lost. I still love what I do, but it seems that I will have a decision to make about the future of Steel Town Cycles next year. We have lots of great customers and plans to expand into bike sales, new and good quality second hand, if there’s a demand. We’ll leave the BSO’s to others.

We sell so much more than I think a lot of folks know. But because it seems many don’t want to come to an independent specialist shop and would rather spend online with a faceless company not even owned by cyclists anymore. We aren’t just a normal bike shop and have just as many lady customers as gentlemen. Many of our North East cycle shop institutions have gone. Many in the last few years. The independent bike shops that I knew when I was first starting out as a green cyclist. I hope that I’ve inspired my customers like those shops did for me. No question will ever be a silly one and you might leave us with a new found inspiration to get on your bike. If you have then we are doing our job right.

Plans for 2022

We’ll be starting early bird sales through January and February 2022, on accessories. (Only available in the shop)

In February/March 2022, we’ll be introducing a loyalty scheme to enable our customers to benefit from savings on parts and accessories and get additional offers throughout the year.

This may seem like a bit of a rant but I think I’ve been polite long enough. These online sales platforms are already damaging our high street with many big name brands focusing on out of town or city centres forcing rents up in those smaller towns and leaving many units empty. Leading to the consumer to be often heard to say “ I shop locally where I can” or “there’s nothing in my town centre, so I have to go to the next big town or city” There simply is no incentive for these NAMES to risk putting a store in a town where their research shows they won’t be successful.

The next generation of Steel Town Cycles professional mechanic?

More eBikes more maintenance………

Bikes are not getting simpler by any means at all. Many eBikes have mechanical gear and braking systems. The drive units do break and cannot be fixed by untrained amateurs. There’s a growing number of trained specialists that can repair broken drive units. Like many other things buying an eBike from a dealer ensues that prices come within the realm of the wider population. DIY kits and the sellers of such are not recommended. Many are illegal to use anywhere other than private land and with the land owners permission. This is due to being rated above the 250w motor size limit in the UK. I’ve personally seen machines with 1000W + motors. Though obviously not worked on them. These are designed for use on eCargo bikes and eRickshaws.

Illegal practices such as overriding the speed limiter can and will be detected by professionals. This invalidates warranty, a professional shop/bike mechanic can refuse to work on the bike, which means even routine repairs and by knowingly using a machine in this condition the rider can be fined and be prosecuted for the use of an untaxed and uninsured vehicle on the roads. Oh and Bridleways are public too so it’s illegal to ride there too.

Steel Town Cycles hope to be serving the local community and beyond for many more years to come. To do this we need your support and the support of your friends and family. We aren’t JUST a service and repair shop. We are a real bricks and mortar SHOP. We cater for all types and makes of bike from the kids and family bikes to commuters and racing cyclists on or off road. If we don’t have what you’re looking for in the shop we can usually order it for next day delivery. As I’ve already said though we have much more than many think.

We are trying to educate our friends and customers old, new and beyond that we are open for business and worth looking for. Once you’ve found us you’ll not need to go anywhere else.

Steel Town Cycles can be found at Unit 4, 25-27 Derwent Street, Blackhill. DH8 8LR

phone 01207258270

Thank you for reading Kind Regards Steel Town Cycles.